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Barcelona History

The pre-Roman history of the Barcelona area is disputed, though settlements dating back thousands of years have been found here. It is thought that the Laietani, an Iberian people, settled here in the 3rd century BC. During the 2nd century BC the Romans contested the peninsula with Carthage, and by the end of the 1st century BC, the Roman colony of Barcino was well established.

With the eventual fall of the Empire in the 5th century, Barcelona was conquered by the Visigoth kingdom, By the 8th century, Moorish armies swept through the Iberian peninsula and took the city. It changed hands again in 801 when the Franks took control.

In the 9th century, Guifré el Pelós brought most Catalan counties under the House of Barcelona. By the end of the 12th century, it had combined with Aragon through marriage and over the next two centuries the Catalan-Aragonese Empire sprawled through Catalonia, southern France and even southern Italy.

After Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile married in 1469, Spain finally incorporated the Catalan region, which revolted against royal authority in 1640 and declared a republic. Philip IV crushed the rebels in 1652.

After the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714, things got worse for the city. Defeat by the Bourbons after the Siege of Barcelona led to the abolishment of Catalan political institutions, while Castilian law was imposed in the newly centralised Spain.

The city recovered through trade and industrialisation, and by the 19th century, Catalonia was the richest region in Spain. Barcelona absorbed six municipalities in 1897 and the new district of the Eixample was laid out, while modernist architecture by the likes of Gaudí filled the city.

Barcelona was bombarded for three days in March 1938 at the height of the Spanish Civil War, and fell into nationalist hands in January 1939. Again, Catalan identity was suppressed, but its wealth continued. After Franco died in 1975, the area gained status as an autonomous community. Despite this, calls for greater powers and even independence have intensified over the decades, headed by Barcelona.

Did you know?
• One myth names Hercules as the city’s founder, another Hamiclar Barca, father of Hannibal.
• The Olympic Games in 1992 is credited with spurring Barcelona’s development into a modern, global city.
• During the three-day bombing of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War, up to 1,300 people died and 2,000 were wounded. The air raids were launched by Mussolini, who supported Franco.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel España

Designed by one of the leading lights of the Modernista school of architects, Domenèch i Muntaner, and once patronised by the likes of Dalí, the 2-star España enjoys a privileged location close to La Rambla and the Liceu. Some rooms are better than others, but major compensations include Ramón Casa's striking mural depicting underwater scenes and the elaborate craftsmanship in the splendid typical Catalan dining rooms. The 90 bedrooms are fully equipped; private rooms and a patio garden for meetings and celebrations are also available. It is also one of the few central establishments with parking facilities.

Hotel Praktik Garden

With affordable rates and quality accommodation, Hotel Praktik Garden introduces a new concept midway between a budget hostel and a contemporary hotel. Decked out in white-washed walls, slick lines and retro furnishing, this Barcelona hotel provides the technology and comforts budget travellers look for. Housed in a historical building from the Modernist age, the hotel stands in a quiet area, five minutes away from the city centre by foot. Free Wi-Fi is provided in all rooms and public areas.

Hotel Peninsular

Located in a narrow street near the Liceu opera house and built on the site of a former convent, the Peninsular is one of the oldest hotels in Barcelona. Rooms are simple and clean, although not all have their own bathroom facilities. Full of interesting architectural detail, such as the dining room's Moorish-inspired arches, the real pièce de résistance is the wonderful interior balcony. Adorned with hanging plants and wicker tables and chairs, it has a serene, almost oriental atmosphere. Booking well in advance (approximately three months) is usually necessary.

El Jardí Hotel

This small-scale, 2-star hotel is a perennially popular budget option, full of character and original features. Located in the busy hub of Barcelona's old quarter, attractions are within short walking distance. Overlooking the shady, café-lined Plaça Sant Josep Oriols and the classic gothic architecture of the medieval church of Santa Maria del Pi, the Jardí is pretty much unbeatable in terms of price and location. All rooms are en-suite.

Oriente Atiram

Situated on the bustling thoroughfare of La Rambla, the 3-star Husa Oriente is one of Barcelona's original 'grand' hotels. Constructed on the site of a Franciscan monastery, in 1842, the 147-room hotel was once the haunt of illustrious guests such as Maria Callas, Arturo Toscanini and Errol Flynn among its illustrious guests. Although recent renovations are perhaps a tad characterless, the grand dining room and arched ballroom (now a lounge) are still potently redolent of its glorious heyday.

Hotel Arts Barcelona

The product of a hugely successful collaboration between New York design and Barcelona funds, the Hotel Arts Barcelona has won several awards. Featuring an attractive brass wave-like roof, the 44-storey high hotel pokes conspicuously into Barcelona’s skyline. Thanks to its beachfront location, all 483 rooms have spectacular Mediterranean views. Art works by leading Spanish artists adorn the public areas. Among the wide array of services and amenities is a luxury spa and four top-class restaurants, one of which, Enoteca Paco Pérez, has two Michelin stars.